Why Standard Obituaries As We Know Them Are DeadSeptember 24th, 2016
Obituaries have always been an essential part of the funeral process… families contact your funeral home after a loved one passes away, you begin working together to plan out the details of the service, you write out the obituary, and then you host the funeral. It’s just how things have always been done.
But do you ever stop and ask yourself why obituaries are one of the required pieces of the funeral puzzle? (Other than the reasoning of, “well, we’ve just always done it that way?”)
The truth is, obituaries have gone hand-in-hand with funerals since as early as the 17th century. And while there have been some slight changes in the way that they’ve been written over time, or the people that they’ve been written about, today’s obituaries still remain pretty much identical to the way that they’ve always looked… It’s the people who read them that have changed significantly.
In Loving Memory of the Obituary
The purpose of an obituary has been the same since the beginning – alert your community to the passing of a particular person, share funeral details, and give a short recap of the life they lived. The notice would then appear in newspapers or newsletters, and would follow the traditional format… the 5 W’s that we are still taught in writing class today:
- Who – Who passed away?
- What – What triggered their death?
- When – When did they pass away?
- Where – Where did they pass away?
- Why – Why was their life significant?
In the early days when obituaries were reserved for honoring the lives of the notable, rich and famous, these 5 W’s were covered poetically, and in a way that put emphasis on the value of people’s lives. They would be long and detailed, and would paint a rich photo of the person they were honoring.
But as obituaries became more popular for “common men and women” … (AKA all of us regular folk), there became less space in the papers to retell these long, unique stories and memories, so obituaries went from long paragraphs to just a few sentences – charging people line by line or even word by word for each one submitted. But because most people planning a funeral were already faced with unexpected costs, many were forced to submit the bare minimum in order to keep word counts (and related price tags) low. Sadly, this meant that many people’s life stories were also reduced to the bare minimum along the way.
However, it’s not just the falling word counts and stories that have doomed the obituary. Really, they have been flawed since the beginning….
Going From Stories To Conversations
Don’t get me wrong… obituaries have always worked well as a way to notify people about a funeral service. Posting a notification about a person’s passing and giving a few details about when and where the service will take place allows families to update people quickly and creates a simple, concise piece of information to pass around in times of stress and confusion. But the idea of using obituaries to tell a person’s life story has always been flawed… even before word counts came into play.
You see, a person’s life story is made up of so much more than a list of accomplishments and a round up of close relatives. Every single person who is impacted by a loved one’s passing has their own unique memory to share. Just ask them… “What is your favorite story of your loved one? What was their best quality? What will you always remember most about them?” Each person who answers these questions will have a different story to tell.
The problem with a traditional obituary is that they present a one-sided (often surface-level) story of a person’s life, and that’s the end… they are posted someplace static like a newspaper where they can be read, but never evolved. And the people who have lifetimes of stories and memories to share end up keeping them quiet, depriving themselves and the loved one’s friends and family of the healing power that comes with sharing and reminiscing.
How We Can Breathe Life Back Into The Obit
So how can we as a profession turn boring, static, traditional obituaries into a collaborative healing experience? Start by putting obituaries where your families are already sharing memories and telling stories… online.
1. Make Obituaries Shareable
Facebook is a great place to start if you are not already sharing your services online. Simply create a new post on your funeral home’s Facebook page for each service you host, and include information about service times, visitation hours, and where your funeral home is located. This gives family and friends a central location to point people to if they have any questions about the upcoming service, and need to get in touch with your funeral home about further details. From Facebook, people can also share the post on their own personal Facebook pages – creating an endless loop of sharing, ensuring that the funeral information reaches as many eyes as possible.
2. Give People Memory Prompts
When you are sharing obituaries online, don’t just give people the answers to their questions… engage them and give them an outlet to connect with each other and share their own stories. For example, when you post a new obituary on Facebook, ask a question in the post that will encourage comments. Each of the following prompts will create a beautiful conversation among friends and family in the comments of your obituary post…
“Life is made up of beautiful memories… Help John Doe’s family celebrate his beautiful life by sharing your favorite memory of John below.”
“Do you have a unique story of John Doe? Be sure to share it in the comments below!”
“A beautiful life deserves to be remembered… Share your favorite memory of John Doe in the comments below.”
“To help kick off the life celebration of John Doe, please leave your favorite memory in the comments below!”
These prompts are not only a great way to kick off the celebration and healing process, but they also serve as an amazing capsule of stories and memories that the family can refer back to and see just how many people were impacted by the life of their loved one.
3. Turn Your Website Into An Irreplaceable Celebration Experience
If you want to truly turn your obituaries into a bigger-than-life resource that has your families sharing meaningful stories and celebrating life, it’s time to ditch the idea of a boring, text-only obituary once and for all.
Instead, create an ultimate celebration experience on your website where people can upload their favorite photos and videos of their loved one, comment and join in on other people’s favorite memories, learn about their loved one’s upcoming service information and events, and even show their sympathy through beautiful flowers and virtual gifts. With f1Connect’s Social Memorial websites, you can do all of that and more.
When you give a loved one’s friends and family a place to start conversations and share their own stories and memories, you are allowing a community of people to come together and build a true, complete story of a loved one’s life… and it’s a story that never has to end. People can log on a week, a month, a year after the funeral and share new memories, reflect on funny photos and videos, and even light a candle in their honor. The beauty of a Social Memorial Page is that they are constantly growing and evolving, creating a living memorial on your funeral home website that families can always come back to… who can say that a traditional obituary ever had that kind of power?
To learn more about how you can create powerful obituary pages and posts that are meaningful to today’s families, click here to talk to one of our funeral success specialists.